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Thunder 120, Rockets 91

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: April 22, 2013 at 10:25 am •  Published: April 22, 2013

Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday’s Game 1 win over the Rockets.

  • Break out that checklist. You know, the one with all those keys to the series you’ve been jotting down for the past 3 1/2 days? Grab a Sharpie and start checking. Defend the 3-point line? Check. Get back in transition? Check. Clog the paint. Check. And what was that other one? Oh right, turn James Harden’s night into a nightmare. Check.
  • In his playoff debut as Houston’s franchise player, Harden scored 20 points on 19 shots. He had only two assists and six rebounds in 34 minutes. Thanks to the thrashing the Thunder put on the Rockets, Harden never took the court for the fourth quarter.
  • “There were definitely nerves,” Harden said. “Not just for me, but also for my teammates that are going through their first playoff game on the road. It’s one game, and it is a best-out-of-seven series. We just have to get ready for Game 2.”
  • The question Houston has to answer is how. How on earth do the Rockets prepare for what could be more of the same? What they have to understand is that the Thunder is a team on a mission, and their scrappy eighth-seeded squad is all that’s standing in OKC’s way at the moment. And rather than overlook the Rockets, the Thunder has zeroed in on the task at hand. If Game 1 proved anything it’s that the Thunder isn’t interested in taking these guys lightly. OKC, on this night, cleared the highest hurdle this series has to offer. For the Thunder, that’s a mental challenge of playing with the proper mindset against a team you know you’re better than. This game showed us that Houston has the Thunder’s complete attention, and that focus led to a forgettable homecoming for Harden and an utterly disappointing playoff debut for his coach and many of his Rockets teammates.
  • “We played terrible across the board,” said Jeremy Lin.
  • The Thunder started the game on a 13-2 run and never looked back. Though Houston tied it twice midway through the second quarter, the Rockets never threatened to take control of the game.
  • Houston started the game 0-for-9, as the Thunder swarmed to the ball and forced stops and steals, blocks and deflections.
  • In those opening minutes, the Thunder were beating the Rockets at their own game. OKC scored six of its first eight points on fast breaks.
  • The Rockets’ first field goal didn’t come until Harden got a driving layup to fall with 5:46 left in the first quarter.
  • Truthfully, this is a blowout that probably should have gotten started much earlier. The Rockets were ice cold at the beginning. They were nervous. They couldn’t make a shot and couldn’t stop turning it over. And yet, with four minutes remaining in the opening period, the Thunder led by just seven. It felt like OKC should have been up by 17 at that point. Got to give the Rockets a ton of credit for hanging in there and weathering that early storm. A team as young and inexperienced in postseason play as the Rockets are easily could have gotten run out of the gym.
  • Houston also had early foul trouble, with Chandler Parsons picking up his third foul with 9:59 remaining in the second quarter and Omer Asik having to sit with 3:06 left in the half because of the same number of fouls. It was sort of shocking that the Thunder couldn’t pull away despite all that was going wrong for the Rockets.
  • With that said, the primary reason the Thunder couldn’t run and hide was because it couldn’t make a shot. OKC was just nine of 25 in the first quarter and far away from finding its offensive rhythm.
  • The onslaught began in earnest in the final four minutes of the second quarter. That’s when the Thunder turned a two-point lead into a 13-point halftime advantage behind a 14-3 run to close the half.
  • Houston turned it over four times in those final four minutes, the last three leading to six points for the Thunder.
  • The game was over when the Thunder opened the second half on a 14-7 run to take a 20-point lead.
  • The Thunder never trailed and led by as many as 35.
  • “We just didn’t play very well,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “That’s the bottom line.”
  • The Rockets shot 36.3 percent for the game. Their dangerous 3-point game yielded just eight makes on 36 attempts. Their vaunted fast break game produced just 20 transition points, only seven in the first half.
  • Thunder coach Scott Brooks: “I thought our defense was outstanding throughout the game…I thought we locked in and all five guys participated.”
  • Brooks wasn’t kidding. All five guys did their part. Everybody had a hand in shutting down the Rockets’ offense. Thabo Sefolosha spent a good portion of his 24 minutes fighting over screens to stay locked with Harden. Russell Westbrook started off locking up Lin before sliding over and playing some outstanding defense on Harden as well. Ditto for Kevin Durant on Chandler Parsons and then, in spurts, Harden. Serge Ibaka was a rim protector with his shot-blocking, and Kendrick Perkins manned the middle against Omer Asik, keeping Houston’s center relatively quiet while also making the Rockets play in a crowd on screen and rolls.
  • The Thunder did a ton of switching tonight, which thwarted a lot of open looks for the Rockets. At times, it looked as though OKC was playing a zone because of how much switching was going on. On certain possessions — Ibaka on an island against Lin — it seemed it would backfire. But the Thunder’s length on those eventual switches caused problems and the Rockets never really found an answer for it.
  • Derek Fisher checked in with 1:30 remaining in the first quarter and played 12 minutes tonight. He made his shots, 3-of-4 from downtown, which made it a successful night. But his defense wasn’t great, and right as he was checking in I thought to myself I’d rather see DeAndre Liggins in this series. Well, I’d rather see DeAndre Liggins every night but against the Rockets defense is the key, not offense. And with Houston having some jitterbug guards, Liggins seems to be a better play than Fish. Both can be physical, but Ligs has the length and athleticism to keep up and pester shots and passes. It won’t happen, I know. Just thought I should mention it.
  • Reggie Jackson checked in with 2:58 left in the first quarter and 32 seconds later made his first shot…and it was a 3-pointer!! That had to be a good sign. Not just because Jackson has struggled with his shot, but also because it provided a glimpse of how he would handle playoff pressure. Granted, this was a home game, in the first round no less. But when Jackson swished his 3 from the left wing it was pure. And it was only a nine-point game before that bucket. So it was a good sign indeed. Jackson went on to finish with nine points, two rebounds and four assists in 23 minutes.
  • Fitting that Collison and K-Mart hooked up for a backdoor against Harden, no?
  • Harden is dead to Thunder heads I guess. He was welcomed with a hearty chorus of boos during pre-game introductions. And he was booed each time he scored, drew a foul or stepped to the free throw line. After one sequence that ended with Harden’s momentum carrying him into the crowd, fans in the end zone closest to the Rockets bench stood and let him have it as he neared the steps. Harden quickly turned and walked back onto the court.
  • For some reason, when there’s a blue-out or white-out it’s a big deal around here. If you don’t wear the shirt you’re subject to dirty looks, boos and pressure to put it on in the form of being shown on the big screen until you do. Basically, you’re a bad person if you don’t put on the shirt. Well, tonight Durant’s brother and buddies who sit courtside for every game didn’t put on their shirts. And Durant was asked after the game if there was “any chance in the next that you could get your family to put on the Thunder shirt? They were the only ones in the building not wearing the T-shirts. Is there a reason for that?” Durant had fun with it. “That’s my fault,” Durant said. “I got to get on them tonight. They got to participate. So I got it next game.”
  • If somebody doesn’t want to put on a shirt, they shouldn’t have to put on a shirt. With that said, I’d put on the shirt. For two reasons: 1) I think it’s cool, and 2) when too many fans decide they’re too cool for a freebie T-shirt your home crowd basically becomes the Miami Heat’s.
  • Durant took a charge tonight. And it was on Harden.
  • Durant took a charge tonight, Perk threw a lob pass and Ibak actually caught said lob pass and finished. Yep. This was the Thunder’s night.
  • Know that Chrysler, Jeep & Dodge commercial where Perk says “I’m still not signing that song?” That’s Thabo on the break. It’s been 4 1/2 years and Thabo is like “I’m still not giving it up on the break.”
  • Another fan hit a halfcourt shot for $20,000 tonight. This guy ran over and forced a hug with Thabo. That’s got to stop. Can’t just have exuberant fans running up on players like that. Even with the best of intentions, it’s dangerous. Somebody could get hurt. Wonder if we’ll see the Thunder take steps to prevent that going forward.
  • K-Mart didn’t shoot well tonight, but I thought his hustle players were great. He rebounded well, got down in the paint and mixed it up and even blocked a shot. He can’t afford to have many 5-for-15 nights going forward, but if he can continue to provide energy like he did tonight it’ll be big.
  • We assumed this going in. We got our confirmation coming out. The Rockets don’t anybody who can come close to matching up with Westbrook.
  • Patrick Beverley is one scrappy little dude. He’s the one player the Rockets have that can come close to matching Westbrook’s energy. Beverley picked Westbrook’s pocket twice tonight (though the Rockets only recovered the ball on the first deflection). He showed no fear whatsoever despite going against the Thunder’s All-Star point guard in his playoff debut. I’m not sure of Beverley’s contract status, but if the Thunder ever needs a third string point guard and he’s available look no further. Beverley officially made my All-Grit Team, a squad of lesser known players that I absolutely love and could play for my team any day. Among possible others, they include Tony Allen, Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker, Chandler Parsons and, of course, DeAndre Liggins.
  • The season could end today as far as I’m concerned. The Olate Dogs finally made their way to town. Short of a championship, there isn’t a single thing better in the NBA. Those are some special, special dogs. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Thunder decision-making people, for bringing them in and allowing us all to enjoy them.
  • Up next. Game 2 on Wednesday.

-DM-

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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